“A cool, dark place? And dry not too dry?”: “Childhood” by Alexander Best

Alexander Best



The  rootcellar  lay  below  my  room;   I’m  behind  that  door

Where  steps  reached  down.   Dark  darkened  there;  cool  was  cooler.

Second  door,  kitchen’s;   always  open,  and  I

Made  hillocks  on  a  saucer,  of  milk  powder  poured  from  a

Very  large  box;   I  licked  my  hand  and  dipped  it.

Third  door  faced  foot  of  the  bed.    It  led  out  to

Great  skies  and  fields  with  feeling-of-cliffs  for  corners.

The  ‘dump’  that  burned  once  also  was  there;   the

Hawk;  and  the  weasel,  who  stole  under  the  mattress.


Were  walls  of  loose  stones:  a  ruined  enclosure.

Gasoline  drums;  weird  liquid  spilling  over  many  surfaces.

A  giant  bush / hands-and-knees  tunnel;

Amidst  everything,  hidden  — the  centre.


Edible  pebbles,  pepperdirt  pies,  green  blades.   Poison.

Black-silk  dog,  growing  glow-bulb  mushrooms;

Stiffening;   “Lady”,  caught  in  her

Leap  through  shed  window  slamming.

And  wild  onions  blooming…at

Brink  of  the  forest,  the  tumbling  path,  and

Quiet  and  busy,  the  river.




Time’s  grit-polished  the  bone  of  it;  and

Time’s  encrusted  its  core,  like  a  little  ‘geode’  cave.

Skeletalphabet.   Hidden  stratagem.   Both

Are  the  poem.   And  it?   What’s  it?



I  am  grateful  now,  not  anxious  about  you,  Time.

Not  only  sad,  your  passing.




The  house  (long,  narrow,  one-storey’d)  was  like  segments  of  a  warped

Hickory  train,  boxcars  off  the  rails,  though

Solid  in  some  permanent  aftermath.

Caboose  was  “the  wreck  room”.    We  kids  inscribed  that  name

On  its  door:  the

End  of  the  dim  corridor,  where  light  startled.

Room’s  air  was  bright;  on  warm

Days,  an  excellent  afternoon  place;   magnetic / ignored.

An  atmosphere  also  of

Cold  storage  there;   of  business  interrupted,  left  at  that.

Mechanical  typewriter

( black-and-red  ribbon  spooled  off,  on,  in  raggéd  use);

Onionskin-carbonsheets,  dwindled  paper;  brittle  pencil  leads.   And

Me   up  on  the  shelves:    files,  farm / trade  journals,  and  a

heedless-someone’s  bulletins.

Upright  piano,  painted  bandage colour,  stood  somewhere…

Did  we  carve  the  entire  alphabet  on  its

Ivory-like-an-old-man’s-toe  keys?

We  did.  

And  we  lifted  “the  lid”,  strummed  harp  wires  with

Knives,  and  a  rusty  letter  opener  got



“The  wreck  room”  had  an  outside  door;  its  stone  stoop

Jumping-off  point  for  hundred-acre  adventures  in  world-wide

Solitude.   Society  was:   voices  in  our  heads.

My  sisters,  mute;   my  brother,  whereabouts  uncertain;   my  father?

A  Christmas  tree  that  refused  to  stand  / the  telephone  high

Upon  the  wall  I  couldn’t  grasp  in  time;   my  mother?


“The  wreck  room”  contained  a   ‘picture  window’…

Picture  was  jumble  of   trees  obscurrying  on  a  drop-off

Edge  of  the  land.   Once,  an  owl  (size  of  a  man’s  fist  but  fluffier)

Flew  into  the  frame,  stunning  itself  on  the  glass.

And  then…sunned  itself  on  the  grass.   Even  that  night.




Despairenthood…fairly-young,  fresh-gone

Flowers  in  a  whollywaterless  vase.

Highborn,  persistent,  the  sun  performs  its  task.

Two  flies  frustrate  themselves  (sun’s  a  trap,  between  the  storms);

Resolve  to  keep  still.

Vase / its  clutches  of  straw,  scuncheoned  there.

Dry-dry  vase:   slipped  the  mind’s  ledge.

Boy:  crept  from  his  bed.



V   ( April 1968 )

A  television  set  has  four  feet,  like  “cattles”  do;  also,

Horns  on  it — sticks  standing  straight  and  bendy.

A  television  set  is  a  radio  you  can  see;

Sounds-box  with  a  ‘picture  window’.

Picture  is  jumble:   something  obscurrying  —  and  no  colours.   A

’merican   minister  got  murdered  by  a  gun  because  he  was

King  of  Memphis.

( Egypt  is  where  we  began,  even  God,  and  all  the  children

Lived  under  triangles.   Facts  are  in  giant  books  Dad  left

That  time  he  came  to  visit. )

Something  happened  with  no  colours:   the  lady  crying,  the

Man  very  tired  and  wet;   black  water  came  out  of  his  body,  like  the

Buried  spring  that growed  in  the  woods.   Other

People  were  running,  in  every  direction.

Department-store  mannequin  had  no  arms,  no  legs.   It  was

Tied  with  ropes,  to  the  lamp-post;   at  the  top  was

No  lamp.




I  carried  a  small  metal  box:   my  “lunchpail”.

Sugar-butter  sandwich,  and  in  my  sister’s,


By  the  wide  gravel  road

Yellow  schoolbus  noised  over  to  us.

Cedar  swamps:  a

Fairyland  we  passed  through,  where  the

Strangled  girl  was  stored,  with  the  chipmunks;

On  our  way  to  Grade  One.

Winter,  the  snowplough  made  big  banks;

I  stood  upon  them,  waiting;   I  was





‘Acajou’  and  ‘Architek’  were  “cattles”;  had

Their  own  square  of  earth  by  the  shed  where

Heavy  bags  of  nugget-dogfood  were  kept.

Bulls  were  big-boned,  had  more

Grit  than  polish.   And  they  were  important;

Their  liquid-gem  stash  was  to

Purchase  a  future  —  Dad’s  idea  —  and

The  fence  around  them  fell  apart  when  I  played  on  it

—  ‘Acajou’  and  ‘Architek’  were  not  pets.

Mum  and  Us  were  Dad’s  chattels,  but  he  threw  himself  out,

Left  us  lying  around  all  over  his  property.




In  meatier  days  there’d  been  livestock  on  the  farm,

hogs and piglets everywhichway.

And  field-armies  of  lilies,  staked-alive,  for  export.

Bulb  Lilies,  ancientest  of  flowers,  are

Really  something  when  their  blooms  open.  And  for

Awhile  after,  too.   The  best  part  is:   when  they  die,

They  still  come  back,  if  you  care  for  their  odd-

Potato-radish  ‘bodies’;   let  them  have  their  quiet  in

A  cool,  dry,  dark  place.


Soup  bones  get  jelly,  when  you  put  them  in  the  fridge.

Bones  strike awe,  after  several  seasons  out  on  the  ground.

My  mother  had  a  ring,  in  the  drawer.  A  precious  cold-gem.

She  drove  a  great  distance  in  a  car — to  the  City.   And

Sold  the  ring  to  the  shopkeeper  with  his  telescope  eye.

I  knew  as  well  as  he  what  things  look  like  up  close.




The  rootcellar  lies  below  my  room;

It’s  been  there  since  God  came,  ideas / shovel  in  tow.

Our  definitions  of  human

Hold  together,  strengthen,  the  more  He  plays  on  us.   Someday,  I  will

Reach  down  the  steps.   Is  it

A  cool,  dark  place?  And  dry  not  too  dry?   I

Believe  so.   Definitely,  there  is

No  lamp.    One  can  live  in  many  places;

Here,  too.

Editor’s note:

I wrote these poems when I was in my 40s, after several days of casting my mind back over my childhood, that is – my childhood up till the age of 8 – the year 1968, which was when the farm property was sold and we moved from the country (Esquesing Township, Halton County) to the city (Toronto).  As children, our isolated world was both perfect and lonely;  we were surrounded by “the great outdoors” yet as an un-socialized child I required much mental strength.  In Toronto there began a new life for us – which included a formal end to my parents’ invisible marriage – and I had to overcome my introverted nature so as to make my first friends ever, those being kids from the  rough-and-tumble world of the city.

Poem V (April 1968)

refers to the arrival of our first television set – black and white, of course – and to my first television memory – that of seeing newsreel footage of rioting in U.S. cities after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee.  That mannequin “lynched” to a utility pole is my first T.V. image.  Others, more light-hearted, would follow – “Felix, the Wonderful Cat”, “Rocky and Bullwinkle”, etc…

Poem VII

“Their liquid-gem stash” is semen from two Charolais bulls, Acajou and Architek.  Dad wished to begin an artificial insemination business since so many cows on farms were injured even crippled when bulls mounted them ‘au naturel’.

.     .     .

The farm was a standard 100-acre Southern Ontario farm and was located on Number 15 SideRoad, between 8th and 9th Lines, in Esquesing Township.  A branch of the Credit River flowed at the north boundary of the property.  Nearby Georgetown has expanded in the past 50 years, its population growing from about 10,000 people in the early 1960s to just over 40,000 people today.  Consequently, the farm has vanished – the whole of it was developed as a residential subdivision during the 1990s.

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